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Kyrgyzstan: Protests Gain Steam Ahead Of Major Antigovernment Rally

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev (file photo) (RFE/RL) April 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Opposition efforts to pressure the government gained momentum in several regions of Kyrgyzstan today, with continuing calls for the resignation of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

The protests come as hunger strikers remain camped outside the Kyrgyz parliament and organizers vow to mobilize huge numbers in the capital on April 11 to demand reforms and early elections.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports that a panel to draft a new constitution -- a key opposition demand -- is also due to finish its work today.

Local protests are under way in Kyrgyzstan's northern provinces of Chui, Ysykkol, Talas, and Naryn -- reportedly ranging from the hundreds to more than 1,000.

Click here for a photo gallery by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

But the real opposition test will come in Bishkek, where the president's foes are preparing their largest demonstration.

The organizers of the rallies are the two dominant opposition forces in the country -- the new United Front For A Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan and the older For Reforms movement.

Never Really Finished

For the president's opponents, these events are the continuation of a process that started when crowds chased former President Askar Akaev from office in March 2005. After Akaev fled to Russia, many Kyrgyz believed Bakiev's ascent to the presidency would launch a dramatically improved era for their former Soviet republic.

At the time, President Bakiev and many members of this, Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev's, government were on the same side as their current critics.

Atambaev, who heads the opposition Social Democratic party, broke with much of the opposition in late March ahead of his nomination by Bakiev for the prime ministerial post. His government gathered for its first official session in Bishkek today, with Atambaev vowing that regaining public trust would be his top priority.

Just outside Bishkek, a local council member in the village of Baitik attended an antigovernment rally today. In comments to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Akylbek Nasyraliev spelled out the dissatisfaction fueling the current demonstrations.

Antigoverment protests in November 2006 (RFE/RL)

"All the previous speakers at the rally are supporting the demands by the United Front," Nasyraliev said. "There were no changes in the last two years in the power, [nor] in the politics. Bakiev is following the old path, [and] he has even gone further -- family-run government and corruption have increased."

History Repeated?

There was another massive demonstration in Bishkek in November in which protesters demanded changes to the country's constitution. That is a step that many Kyrgyz believed would improve their lives -- and something that Bakiev himself had promised when running for the presidency.

Bakiev eventually conceded and signed a new constitution that reduced his powers. But a month later, in December, his supporters in parliament passed amendments that restored much of the presidential power that had been written out of the compromise text.

Bakiev is taking steps to give the public some of what it is demanding. A working group on a new constitution -- based closely on the one that broke the impasse in November -- is said to be finishing its work today.

Presidential press secretary Nurlan Shakiev told RFE/RL that this should signal that compromise is possible, is happening, and that there is no good reason for Bakiev to resign.

"There is no reason for holding early presidential elections," Shakiev said. "It is strange that, even though the opposition forces understand that, they are still pursuing such demands."

Shakiev said the new constitution will be ready soon, and noted that authorities are meeting their commitments to allow freedom of speech and assembly by permitting the recent rallies. Bakiev has previously described the rallies as a sign of emerging democracy in Kyrgyzstan.

But such promises have been made before.

Bishkek Prepares

There were no rallies today in southern Kyrgyzstan, where much of the attention was focused ahead of Akaev's ouster two years ago. But Abdykaiym Kangeldiev of the United Front headquarters in southern Kyrgyzstan claimed that southerners will be making the trip to Bishkek to participate in the demonstration that starts on April 11.

"I am going to go as a head of the delegation of the volunteer participants of the rally [on behalf of the Osh region]," Kangeldiev said. "The main group of people -- about 10,000 of them -- will be watching us carefully [in Osh]. They will make public their stance toward the forthcoming political rally in Bishkek. About 100 people will go [to Bishkek] from Osh. If you add the people from Batken and Jalal-Abad [two other southern regions], then there will be more people [in Bishkek]."

There are already about 100 hunger strikers outside the parliament building in Bishkek, where they have been since last week.

Organizers of the rally that starts on April 11 have vowed to continue their demonstration until their demands are met.

November's rally lasted about one week before Bakiev publicly backed down. But Kyrgyzstan has a history of demonstrations that can last for months until the opposition wins some form of concessions.

(Tynchtykbek Tchoroev of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

The Tulip Revolution

The Tulip Revolution

ONE YEAR AGO: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's archive of coverage of Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution from the beginning, including biographical sketches of the key players and photo galleries of the demonstrations.

See RFE/RL's special review of the March 2005 Kyrgyz events:

Questions Remain About March 24 'Revolution' (Part I)

Did Revolution Sow The Seeds Of Democracy? (Part II)

Was 'Revolution' A Worthy Successor To Rose And Orange? (Part III)

See also:

Reporter's Notebook -- Witness To The Uprising

THE COMPLETE KYRGYZSTAN: To view an archive of all of RFE/RL's coverage of Kyrgyzstan, click here.

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